If there’s one thing most people can agree on, it’s that medical school is hard and demanding. To quote an old cliche, though, “if it were easy, everyone would do it.” Because medical school is so tough, the actual process of getting into a good med school is equally challenging.
Getting a great score on the MCAT can give you a more competitive edge when applying, and enrolling in one of the best MCAT prep courses can help ensure you get that good score.
What is the MCAT?
The MCAT, short for Medical College Admission Test, is a standardized test that students must take if they’re hoping to be admitted into medical school.
It’s administered and maintained by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and has been an important part of applying to medical school for over nine decades.
Although it may be tweaked and changed a little every now and then, it isn’t likely to go anywhere anytime soon. More than 85,000 students take the MCAT every year, and between 2017 and 2019, a whopping 209,141 students sat for the exam.
You may find a random medical school somewhere or other that doesn’t require students to take the exam, but they’re few and far between. Almost every medical school in the U.S. and several in Canada require students to sit for the exam.
What Does it Test?
In short, the MCAT tests you on the knowledge and skills you’d need to become a successful med student, which should also mean you’d become a successful doctor, physician, medical educator, etc. There are four major sections on the exam:
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
- Psychological, Social and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
How, When, and Where Will I Take It?
The AAMC administers the test multiple times each year between the months of January and September. The test is a computer-based exam that’s offered at hundreds of different test sites not just in North America but all throughout the world.
You can take the test on any of its given dates at a test location convenient to you, but it’s important to wait until you’re truly prepared to take it.
Most students take it during the calendar year before the year they hope to enter med school. You may also want to plan to take it early enough to sit a retake if necessary.
Remember, you can take the MCAT only three times in one calendar year, four times over two years, and seven times total.
What Is a Good Score?
Because the test is broken down into four sections, the sections are each scored individually. In each section, you can score between 118 and 132 points.
The highest possible combined score is 528. The average score that can get you into a decent med school is about 510, but with that score, you’re still going to be competing against a lot of similarly qualified applicants.
If you’re hoping to be considered a “better” candidate or if you’re hoping to get into one of the more prestigious medical schools, your goal should be closer to 515.
Some of the best medical schools’ median MCAT scores are even higher, with the average being 517 and some of their students scoring in the 520s. Still, if you can score at least a 508, you should have a competitive score.
How Do I Prep for It?
The material on which you’ll be tested is outlined on the AAMC’s website under a page titled “What’s on the MCAT Exam?” You should definitely start there to make sure you have the foundational skills needed to start prepping for the exam.
You should also talk to the counselors and teachers at your college. If they are health educators, they’ve taken the MCAT themselves, and they can be great resources for you.
Additionally, the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP) has volunteer advisors who are there to help students just like you. They can help you figure out what types of study materials would be best for you.
From now until September 2021, Khan Academy also offers free online prep for the MCAT, and the videos on the site were done in collaboration with actual AAMC professionals, so they’re quality study materials.
Finally, you can enroll in one of the best MCAT prep courses that we’ve outlined below. Some of them aren’t cheap, but they’re all quality resources when studying for the MCAT.
What Makes a Good MCAT Prep Course?
When it comes to choosing the best MCAT prep course, there are several factors you need to consider.
Price is a big one because some of these courses can get quite expensive, and you need to stay within your budget if possible.
How many unique practice questions the course includes is another big factor. You don’t want to pay $2,000 for an MCAT prep course only to find out after you’ve purchased it that it only has 50 practice questions, which it asks you over and over again.
Similarly, you want to see if the prep course has any full-length practice exams and, if so, how many it has. Some people feel comfortable enough just studying with practice questions, and they’ll forego the practice exams- if doing so will save them a little money.
Other people, though, only feel comfortable taking the real exam if they’ve taken at least a couple practice exams that give them an idea of how they’re going to do on the real thing. Determine which category you fall into, and then find a prep course that works for you.
The access period is another important consideration. With many of these prep courses, you’re only buying access for a certain period of time.
You want to make sure that the access period aligns with how long you intend to prepare for the MCAT. Whether or not the course comes with included books is also important because having to buy the books on top of the cost of the prep course is an extra expense you may not be able to afford.
Finally, you want to check and see what kind of guarantee – if any – the prep course offers. If a prep course offers no money-back guarantee, you might want to question the legitimacy of it because most courses do offer at least some type of “higher score” guarantee.
The better the guarantee, the more likely you’re looking at a great course.
The 5 Best MCAT Prep Courses
The Princeton Review has been offering standardized test prep for many years, and it’s good at what it does. Currently, it offers four different MCAT prep courses.
The most affordable is a self-paced, 100% online course. There’s also an online/in-person hybrid course, a 510+ guaranteed online/in-person course, and a 515+ guaranteed online immersion course. Each course has its own advantages, but we’ll be looking at the original, $1,499 course here.
This option gives you access for a year-long period and features over 1,000 relevant practice questions along with their detailed answer explanations. There are also 16 full-length practice exams and access to everything about the MCAT released by the AAMC.
There are over 500 videos for you to watch, and you’ll be sent 10 books as part of the package. The Princeton Review also provides detailed score reports that’ll allow you to track your progress.
- Over 1,000 Practice Questions
- 16 Full-Length Exams
- Higher Score Guarantee
- Books Included in Package Price
- No In-Person Option for the $1,499 Course
- No Free Trial Available
Blueprint offers only one MCAT course; the differences in the prices come from whichever access period you select.
You can choose from a six-month, nine-month, or 12-month plan, and the price per month gets lower as the access period gets higher. Each package features a higher score guarantee, and whichever you choose, you’ll also gain 15 months’ access to the AAMC’s selection of resources. You’ll also get access to “office hours” that’ll allow you to talk directly with professors.
With the Blueprint course, you’ll have access to over 4,000 practice questions and 15 full-length practice exams. The lessons are also divided into modules, with all lessons, readings, and quizzes pertaining to a certain subject put into that particular module.
There’s a “test out” option that’ll allow you to pass an exam to prove competency in the module. Then you won’t be given study materials in that module again unless you specifically request them. Blueprint will also create a personalized study schedule for you to optimize your studying time.
- Over 4,000 Practice Questions
- 15 Full-Length Practice Exams
- Live Office Hours
Kaplan offers an online DIY course, an online course with teachers, an in-person course, and a five-week, intensive Bootcamp. The DIY course is the least expensive option and still has over 2,900 questions, live lessons six days a week, and over 90 hours of pre-recorded video lessons.
There are also 130 interactive Science Review videos for you to watch and refresh yourself on the material. Each course, including the online, self-paced, DIY course, comes with a higher score guarantee.
When you purchase this package, you’ll be sent seven physical books in the mail. These are phenomenal MCAT study guides that are packed full of information on the various subject areas, proven strategies for improving your score, and even more practice questions.
The question bank feature is very innovative and customizes itself based on your knowledge level. You’ll also receive access to AAMC’s resources on the MCAT as well. For the online, DIY course, you’ll have access for six months.
- 16 Full-Length Practice Exams
- 7-Book Study Guide Set Included
- Higher Score Guarantee
- No Free Trial Period
MCAT Self Prep offers a free MCAT prep course that’s pretty great considering it’s free. The free option gives you access to the site’s entire MCAT video lecture collection, study materials for all ten content modules, and access to the site’s MCAT Bootcamp.
There’s also a very inexpensive $9.99 course that gives you all that, but it also allows you to customize the Bootcamp and create a study plan for yourself. You can also study ad-free with this course.
For access to the 5,000 Quizlet flashcards, you’ll need to upgrade to the $99.99 package. The most deluxe, $999 package includes all this and so much more, including mastery courses on several topics such as amino acids, metabolic pathways, high-speed math, science reading passages, and more. There’s also an included Medical School Application course, and with the premium package, you also get a higher score guarantee.
The only real downside to MCAT Self Prep is that there aren’t any actual practice exams, which a lot of people really need before taking the real thing.
- Includes a Free Option
- Paid Options Are Comparatively Affordable
- Over 5,000 Flashcards with Top Tier Subscriptions
- No Practice Exams
Magoosh comes with two different access periods: one-month access for $279 or 12-month access for $299. At those prices, the 12-month access period is clearly the better deal, so that’s the one we’re going to review.
It features a lot of great stuff including over 380 video lessons that cover every section on the MCAT, over 740 practice questions, and three full-length practice exams that can be shortened to suit your needs. Both the questions and the exams have detailed answer explanations.
Magoosh offers two guarantees as well. There’s a seven-day, no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee that’ll allow you to get a refund if you don’t find it helpful. It also offers a 10+ point increase guarantee as well. Finally, you also have the option to pause your account at any time to keep from wasting your access period in times when you may not be able to study.
- Easily the Most Affordable Option
- 10+ Score Increase Guarantee
- Seven-Day, Money-Back Guarantee
- Year-Long Access
- Only Three Full-Length Practice Exams
- Less Than 1,000 Practice Questions
The 5 Best MCAT Prep Books
Once you’ve determined the best MCAT prep course for you, the next step is picking out the best MCAT prep books to suit your needs. Many of the great MCAT prep courses will provide books as part of the package when you purchase access to the course.
It never hurts, though, to find a few additional books to continue your studies on your own. If you’re willing to invest the time and effort into studying, you can never have too many good study guides. You just need to make sure they are good.
Here are five of the best:
Whether or not you select the Princeton Review as the best prep course for your needs, you’ll still want to take a look at the Princeton Review’s study guides because they’re awesome.
This set comes with seven books in total. They are:
- MCAT Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Review, 2nd Edition
- MCAT Physics and Math Review, 3rd Edition
- MCAT Psychology and Sociology Review, 3rd Edition
- MCAT Biochemistry Review
- MCAT Organic Chemistry Review, 3rd Edition
- MCAT Biology Review, 2nd Edition
- MCAT General Chemistry Review, 3rd Edition
It really is the total package when it comes to MCAT prep. There’s a book for every single section of the MCAT exam, including one on critical thinking and reasoning.
Purchasing the books also means you get access to three full-length practice exams that you can redeem online. These three exams will help you determine whether or not you’re ready to sit for the actual exam. The books also feature thousands of practice questions, and there’s an end-of-chapter review at the end of each chapter.
The books also feature MCAT-style practice passages, chapter summaries for ease of reviewing and retaining information, full-color illustrations, tables, and diagrams to help you commit the material to memory, comprehensive glossaries for easy reference, and sections on test-taking skills and techniques for raising your score.
There are also additional resources online to which you’ll have access after your purchase.
2. MCAT Prep Books 2020-2021: MCAT Study Guide 2020 & 2021 and Practice Test Questions for the Medical College Admission Test
Test Prep Books has been offering high-quality, lower price options to students taking standardized tests for years.
This is the company’s most up-to-date offering for students preparing to take the MCAT and is reflective of the types of questions you’ll see on the 2020-2021 MCAT exams.
The book is broken down into several sections including:
- Test-Taking Skills/Tips
- The Three Subject-Area Sections
- A Critical Analysis and Reasoning Section
- Practice Questions, and Detailed Answers
The book is fairly comprehensive, but it’s biggest draws are the numerous questions and the detailed answer explanations provided for them at the end of every content section and the critical thinking section. The answers are very thorough and will help provide you with a very detailed explanation of why you missed the questions that you missed and why you were right about the ones you answered correctly.
Kaplan test prep is another great MCAT resource. Kaplan has been helping students prepare for various standardized tests for over 70 years, and these study guides are some of the best on the market.
Much like the Princeton Review set listed in number one above, this set from Kaplan features seven different books, one for each section on the MCAT exam. The included books are:
- MCAT Biology Review
- MCAT Behavioral Sciences Review
- MCAT Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills Review
- MCAT General Chemistry Review
- MCAT Organic Chemistry Review
- MCAT Physics and Math Review
- MCAT Biochemistry Review
Each book is the most up-to-date, accurate version of the subject matter, and the new layouts make the books even more intuitive and easy to use. In addition to the subject matter, you’ll also get to learn about efficient test-taking strategies and have access to three, full-length practice exams online.
Whether you’re taking the MCAT for the first time or looking to improve your score, these books will provide you with an in-depth review, efficient strategies, realistic practice, and expert guidance to help you do well.
This is the 11th edition MCAT study package by Examkrackers, a company that’s been producing MCAT study guides for the past two decades.
The books were designed with two goals in mind: to provide you with every bit of content you’ll need to learn to score well on the MCAT and to teach you how to use this information to do well on the research passages and questions.
There’s even a section devoted to teaching you essential test-taking strategies you’ll need to do well.
There are six total books in this set:
- Reasoning Skills: Verbal, Research and Math
- Biology 1 Molecules: Biochemistry
- Biology 2 Systems
- Psychology & Sociology
- Chemistry: General & Organic Chemistry
The study format is unique in that it teaches you how to approach the different sections, when to read thoroughly, when to skim, and when multiple readings are needed. There’s also a full mini-exam at the end of each chapter that’ll help reinforce the concepts you just learned.
The guides are designed to teach you to understand rather than memorize, which is the best approach you can take with the MCAT.
This is one of the few guides out there that’s an official MCAT prep product. It’s also produced by the AAMC, so you can be assured you’re getting a study guide that’s going to have a lot of relevant, up-to-date, useful information.
This guide is full of great stuff including:
- Descriptions of Each Content Section and How the Guide Will Help You Prepare for that Section of the MCAT
- General Tips on Preparing for the Exam
- Just about Everything You Need to Know about the Different Exam Sections
- Details on MCAT Scoring
- Info on Admissions, and Much, Much More
This guide does not give you access to the 120 online questions, so make sure that’s not part of the reason you’re choosing this particular guide.
Although there are no full-length exams, there are very thorough mini exams at the end of each section, and when combined together, it’s almost like having access to three different full-length exams.
There’s also some great information in this guide about designing your own study plan and how to use your time wisely and maximize your study session.
We sincerely hope this information gave you some good insight on choosing from the best MCAT prep courses to be found online. We also hope our selection of the best MCAT prep books will give you somewhere to start researching and studying on your own for extra practice.
The MCAT is tough, but it certainly isn’t an insurmountable task. All it takes to earn a good score is time and dedication. If you’re willing to put in the work, it should pay off for you in the end. Just remember to prepare thoroughly, remain calm, and do your best.
Further Reading: When you start applying to medical school, use this guide to write a stellar medical school personal statement– It might get you a standing ovation from the admissions team(s)- seriously!